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As the saying goes, everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but not every city has the same way of celebrating. If you’re looking for a superlative place to spend the green-themed holiday, these are the oldest, biggest, smallest and most unusual celebrations that honor Ireland’s patron saint.

Related: How Irish are youreally? Take this pronunciation quiz to find out.

NYPD Emerald Society

NYPD Emerald Society | Photo courtesy of

Oldest parade: New York City

According to the New York Historical Society, the first known reference to a celebration was in 1756 in the New York Post (founded by Alexander Hamilton). The first recorded New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade was a decade later, in 1766, in what was still The Colonies, when a group of homesick Irish soldiers serving with the British military organized a fife and drum ceremony. As the Irish community in NYC grew, so did the parade, which has been held annually for more than 250 years. These days there are as many as 250,000 marchers, including the bagpipers of the NYPD Emerald Society marching band, and two million spectators. That also makes the annual festivities on Fifth Avenue the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade.


Chicago River

Chicago River

Longest green river: Chicago

Organizers claim this annual modern miracle that turns the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day ranks right up there with Moses parting the Red Sea. As with the recipe for Coca Cola and the iPhone encryption code, the green dye is a secret concoction, but the Plumbers Union who perpetrate the act promise it has been tested and proven safe and green for the environment. Of course, there’s the big downtown parade, too, as well as the South Side Irish Parade.


Two States Parade

The only two-state parade | Photo courtesy of Rock Island Chamber of Commerce

Only two-state parade: Quad Cities

This interstate St. Patrick’s Day Parade begins in downtown Rock Island, Illinois, marching across the Centennial Bridge over the Mississippi River into downtown Davenport, Iowa.  Most everybody – marchers and spectators – wind up at Kelly’s Irish Pub & Eatery, which claims to throw the world’s largest St. Patrick’s party, feeding a couple of tons of corned beef and cabbage and more than 100 kegs of green beer to around 15,000 people.

Skydiving Leprechaun

Skydiving Leprechaun | Photo courtesy of Quad Cities CVB

Only skydiving leprechauns: Davenport, Iowa

A local skydiving club dresses up for the day, landing as close to the post-parade party as possible without touching down in somebody’s lunch.

Related: These are Ireland’s top 10 sights to see, no blarney.

Orbitz- st patricks day celebration-hot springs arkansas-worlds shortest parade

World’s shortest parade: Hot Springs, Arkansas

Bridge Street is a 98-foot long thoroughfare in Hot Springs that claims to be the world’s shortest street in everyday use, and this zany mini-parade makes the most of every inch. Marchers include Elvis impersonators and belly dancers, wearing green, of course, and what organizers claim is the world’s largest leprechaun.

World's largest shamrock

Photo courtesy of O’Neill Chamber of Commerce

World’s largest shamrock: O’Neill, Nebraska

At the intersection of Highways 20 and 281 in the middle of O’Neill, this permanent green fixture is large enough and bright enough to be visible on Google Maps. The shamrock is freshened annually with 20 gallons of green paint, so it can stand up the scuffing by the nearly 200 step-dancers who perform on it as part of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Although they tap their way into local history, they haven’t made it into the Guinness World Book of Records.

Best Legs in a Kilt Contest in Dublin, Ohio

Best Legs in a Kilt Contest in Dublin, Ohio | Photo courtesy of Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau

Best Legs in a Kilt Contest: Dublin, Ohio

Let’s not quibble that kilts are more often associated with Scotland than Ireland, but great legs are immune to geography or politics. This contest in Dublin is open to men only, and only part of the day’s festivities, which include a parade, of course. Dublin’s parade includes giant balloons that are a local version of the more-famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Coldest celebration: Portland, Maine

Portland‘s annual early morning St. Patrick’s Day Plunge into the chilly Atlantic Ocean is a tradition, and plungers are cool enough to do it for charity, the local Children’s Burn Foundation. There’s a more traditional mid-day parade, too.

Did you know? More than 40 states have cities with Irish names, including Waterford, Michigan; Belfast, Maine; Killarney and Mayo, Florida; Shamrock, Texas; and Galway and Limerick, New York.

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Tagged: Family time, Midwest

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn is an NYC-based travel writer who would rather ride a chairlift, river raft or zipline than the subway. She's a regular contributor to major publications, including airline inflights, and has written more than a dozen travel guidebooks. Evelyn's website is

2 thoughts on “These cities have the best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations”

  1. I can’t believe that you missed Savannah Georgia. Probably the most exciting celebration of St. Patrick’s Day anywhere. Guess I won’t use Orbitz for travel advice.

  2. Bob,
    You’re spot on. Really disappointed not to see Savannah, GA listed here. Guess a 98ft street is more compelling than a week long celebration with close to 400,000 attendees.

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